Name of Israel’s anti-Hamas operation has biblical meaning
Smoke billows from a spot targeted by the Israeli military inside the Gaza Strip last week.
November 20th, 2012
09:49 AM ET

Name of Israel’s anti-Hamas operation has biblical meaning

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='dangilgoffcnn']

(CNN) – To English speakers, the name of Israel’s anti-Hamas campaign sounds pretty straightforward: “Operation Pillar of Defense.”

But reading the name of the Israeli operation in Hebrew might provoke some head-scratching. In Hebrew, the Israel Defense Forces have branded their recently launched anti-Hamas effort as “Operation Pillar of Cloud.”

An IDF spokesman explained that most Israelis would recognize “Pillar of Cloud” as a biblical reference.

“It’s based on the pillar of cloud that accompanied the the nation of Israel during the Exodus as they left Egypt and traveling toward Israel,” said Eytan Buchman, head of the North American media desk for the IDF.

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“They wanted the protection from the troubles of the desert, from robbers and people that would attack them and from snakes and scorpions.”

Buchman said the anti-Hamas operation’s Hebrew name is meant to send the message that it is a defensive maneuver.

“We are coming up on a decade of rockets being fired indiscriminately at civilians,” Buchman said, referring to Hamas’ actions in southern Israel. The Jewish state’s current military operation, he said, “is a proverbial cloud that is coming to protect you.”

The Bible’s first reference to a cloud pillar comes in Exodus 14, which describes the Israelites’ flight from bondage, culminating in Moses’ parting of the Red Sea.

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“The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them,” reads the passage in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

"It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel,” the passage continues. "And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.”

The idea of the cloud pillar refers to both physical and spiritual protection, according to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads Ohev Sholom, the National Synagogue in Washington.

“The spiritual message here is about praying to God for protection,” said Herzfeld, who heads an Orthodox congregation. “In Exodus, the pillar of cloud is spiritual protection of the Israelis.”

Herzfeld said the biblical reference would be instantly recognizable to the many Israelis who have had Jewish educations.

The phrase also appears in the Bible’s Book of Psalms, in a verse that says God spoke to Hebrew leaders like Moses, Aaron and Samuel “in the pillar of cloud.”

Israel’s choice of Hebrew words has provoked some criticism online.

"By calling this operation 'Pillar of Cloud,' the IDF are, in a sense, calling themselves God,” tweeted @joshua_eaton, whose Twitter bio describes him as a journalist covering religion and politics. “And they act like they believe that, too."

A blogger for the website Gawker, meanwhile, said that calling the Israeli operation a “pillar of cloud” evoked “an all-powerful, vengeful God seeking to demonstrate the primacy of his chosen people, to guide them in their affairs, and to confound their enemies.”

“Did Israel launch this attack because there was no other rational route to maintain its security?” asked the Gawker blogger, John Cook. “Or was it pursuing a broader agenda rooted in ancient mysticism?”

The IDF’s Buchman said he contacted Cook to challenge his interpretations, saying the Israeli military merely wanted to stress what he called the operation’s defensive nature.

“Inside the Bible,” Buchman said, “the cloud was defined as (following people that were) leaving and running away from a full army that had enslaved it.”

Buchman noted that previous IDF operations have also used biblical references.

In 2002, he said, the IDF used the name “Operation Noah’s Ark” for the seizure of a Palestinian vessel loaded with rockets, missiles and explosives.

And a 2008 IDF operation in Gaza was called “Operation Cast Lead,” which began during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and references a popular Hanukkah song.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Bible • Israel • Judaism • Military

soundoff (1,431 Responses)
  1. angel

    Jesus says,expect no reward from God loving only who love you,even sinners love their own-conservatives,being compassionate conservatives,conservative with compassion,are more likely to love only those who love them,fellow conservatives,and hate liberals,and the Bible says if you hate your fellow man the love of God is not in you. God on the Cross of Jesus Christ is liberal with His compassion as John 3:16,says,God so loved the world,all the people in the world,and it's this love,God's love,that Saves man.And if everybody in the world isn't Saved,it's not the work of God,He is not a hypocrite saying one thing in the Bible and doing another,but it's the work of men not loving as God loves.And in wars men love only who love them,even disobeying Jesus when he says,love your enemies,and all sin is disobedience to God.

    December 2, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  2. angel

    The Bible says,since Eden the sinful nature of man is his flesh,and he is supposed to turn the will of his flesh over to God,and be Born Again of Spirit,the Holy Spirit,which Jesus left with us.This means our fight as Christians is Spiritual,to change hearts and minds,and not of the flesh in wars of guns and bombs,which kill even the innocent,including children,and Jesus says if you do it to one of the little children you do it to me.The nature of wars are that the innocent are killed along with the guilty,so wars are not of God,but of man,of the flesh and the devil,and so wars are sin. Man has a spirit and a soul,and all souls and spirits are eternal,forever with God or separated from God in Hell,so wars can't kill the evil spirits or souls of men,this all means wars can't kill evil,as many are taught,even through the Media.And the Media teaches that violence,even wars solves problems,but the Bible says violence begets violence,and wars are violence,so wars begets wars,so wars don't make the world safer,but really less safer.

    December 2, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  3. The Court

    The justices' decision will likely resolve an ongoing battle between scientists who believe that genes carrying the secrets of life should not be exploited for commercial gain

    December 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  4. angel

    Because the Bible says violence begets violence,and wars are violence,wars cannot make the world safer,but instead make it less safe. And the Bible says God will end all wars in Isaiah2:4,and God doesn't end what is Holy,so wars are not Holy,and so wars are not of a Holy God,the God of the Holy Bible. And as for Christians,the Bible says the only way the world can be saved is through the Death and Resurrection,and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross,the Bible says there is no other way,and that means wars,and through the blood shed in wars, can't do it-in other words man can't do it,only God can.So,you're being deceived,as many are,even through the Media.

    December 1, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  5. angel

    The Bible says,God ends all wars,says Isaiah2:4,and God doesn't end what is Holy,so wars are not Holy,and God is Holy,and God doesn't end Himself or what is Holy,so there's no way wars are Holy,despite what many are taught. And you can't have a separation of Church and State and still fight wars,and say one nation under God,under God means God comes first,and you're not putting God first having a separation of Church and State. The Bible says,God knows the end from the beginning,and there were no wars before man's fall at Eden,and there will be no wars in God's Kingdom,so there's no way God is going to condone wars,even knowing it all ends in the worst war ever as the Bible warns,and as Jesus returns to stop it or no flesh is saved,said Jesus in the Bible. And the Bible says,Jesus sent out his disciples without swords to spread his Gospel,and Jesus told his own disciple all who take the sword perish by the sword,and Jesus says he fulfils all the prophets,including the prophet Isaiah,and Isaiah 2:4,God ends all wars,and the Bible says God never changes,He is the same yesterday,today,and forever. So it's clear that many don't know or understand the Bible,especially the politicians.

    November 30, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  6. angel

    God had Created man to live forever,but God has appointed man once to die because of man's sin at Eden,and man kills man,and himself,including the innocent,with wars,murder,Capital Punishment,suicide,euthanasia,God doesn't have to,or need to kill man,man's sin and he alone himself is responsible.

    November 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  7. angel

    Genesis 3:5:Man sins (pride) to be as God and know good and evil-nothing is equal to God,so man can't know good and evil as God,so in wars man plays God and takes God's power of life and death and kills the innocent along with the guilty,which is the nature of war itself. Hitler played God,and made war taking God's power of life and death to create a Master Race, he was a type of antichrist and deceived many. And the Bible says,in 1John 2:18,there will be many antichrists before the final one,and he also will commit the sin of Genesis 3:5,deceiving the world,just as Hitler and all the other antichrists

    November 26, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  8. angel

    Matthew 5:38-39:Jesus teaches,You've heard it said,an eye for an eye,a tooth for a tooth,but I say to you,don't resist evil,if they strike you on the right cheek,turn the other also-because if you respond in kind,evil for evil,even a slap for a slap,violence begets violence,and it can escalate into a vicious cycle, if you respond in kind you complete the cycle of an eye for an eye,a tooth for a tooth,you complete the cycle of whatsoever is sown is reaped,and that's bad seed to sow in the heart's of men,instead you nip it in the bud by not responding in kind,and you overcome evil by doing good,and most important of all you've obeyed God's word,even the Word Himself,Jesus Christ. And as a Christian you set a good example for the world to follow,otherwise you do the opposite and set a bad example,which is antiChrist.

    November 24, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  9. angel

    Jesus said to his own disciple,all who take the sword perish by the sword,and Jesus sent out his disciples without swords to spread his Gospel,and Jesus says,he fulfils all the prophets,including the prophet Isaiah,and so Isaiah 2:4,God ends all wars–Jesus says those who seek to save their life will lose it, in wars man seeks to save his life,and loses it,but if you lose your life for my sake,says Jesus,you gain eternal life. Wars are not of God,but of men.

    November 23, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  10. angel

    John 3:16,God so loved the world,God on the Cross of Jesus Christ loves the sinner,but not the sin,God wants to save the sinner from the sin,but wars kill the sinner,but not the sin. All souls are eternal,so wars can't kill the soul of an evil person,and only God has the authority to send it to Hell,not man,so wars can't kill evil. Jesus says the body is a temple for God's Holy Spirit,but wars destroy the temple,wars are God's loss,and Satan's gain.

    November 23, 2012 at 8:44 am |
  11. angel

    You can't make war in God's name,and a nation can't make war that says it's under God,under God means God comes first,and wars are not putting God first,both are in danger of taking God's name in vain,the one sin the Bible says cannot be forgiven,taking God's name in vain is not just an utterance,but it's also an act. God will end all wars,says Isaiah 2:4,and God doesn't end what is Holy,and God doesn't end what is of God,so wars are not Holy,and so wars are not of God.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  12. SAS

    So the Israelis justify their killing of over 150 Palestinian men, women and children using some verses from the Bible ?

    Well to me it is pretty obvious who the real extremists are now. The disgusting thing is in spite of their murderous fanaticism the Israelis manage to still get fat with the help of US tax dollars.

    November 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  13. lol??

    Cloud? Oh, oh. I'm thinking mushroom type. Suicidal muslims.

    November 21, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  14. Popsiq

    A Pillar of Smoke in the daytime, a Pillar of Fire by night. The Children of Israel have 'rained destruction' on Canaan and Canaanites many, many times before – never with a 'final solution'. The rats keep coming back.

    November 21, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • End Religion

      I see mankind's bottom of the barrel deigned us with a post.

      November 21, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  15. smart man

    This is great! What a fun idea to mess up a stupid holiday. Replace the baby jesus in every nativity scene you see with something else. Great fun since Jesus never existed and the holiday is silly. The Christards stole the Winter Solstice celebration and called it xmas. See Jesus Never Exsisted. com. Happy Winter Solstice!


    November 21, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Anita Bongtoke

      An adapted pagan holiday, Xtianity stole in the 4th century..
      Happy Sol Invictus!

      November 21, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • End Religion

      My daughter and I discussed this about a month ago, replacing baby jesus with ZOMbaby jesus at a local religious restaurant. Zombies rule! Unfortunately, being a responsible dad I had to explain that, while funny, it would be not only against the law but also disrespectful of other people's property.

      November 21, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  16. nathannv

    Why do the Khazars believe they are from the Twelve Tribes of Israel? They are from the Caucus region in what is today Khazakastan and were not converted to Judaism until the 8th century for economic reasons of trade and barter before they migrated North to Russia and Europe and Became the Master Race of Earth. the real Twelve Tribes of Israel who Moses led out of Egypt became a great Empire in Judah but became wicked and were taken away by the Assyrians Nevinah Iraq in 750 BC and they became the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan. 150 years Later the Two Tribes behind the walls of Jerusalem were taken to Mesopatamia where most of them stayed and became Shia Muslims. The Kkazars are not the race Isiaih talked about blessing and not cursing. In our Latter Day context Isaiah was talking about the Muslims.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  17. angel

    Genesis chapter 3:Man sins,the sin of pride,and eats of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,to be as God and know good and evil-but man is not God,nothing is equal to God,so man cannot know good and evil as God. There's no way man can know all the good people from all the evil people in the world,especiall­y in wars where bombs kill all in their path,the good and the evil. The Bible says what you sow you reap,the measure that you give is the measure that you get,you sow wars and its death and destruction,and you reap wars and its death and destruction,and this applies to all who fight wars.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • End Religion

      god also absurdly claims, "Never wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together."
      So maybe god doesn't always know the correct, logical or even the most helpful answer.

      November 21, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  18. Reality

    It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

    November 21, 2012 at 6:59 am |
    • nathannv

      God is real and his blessing to the Tribes of Israel is real as well. The Khazars have stolen the birth right of the Muslims in order to utilize the Christians to kill the Twelve Tribes of Israel who over Thousands of years have become the Pashtuns and Shia Muslims that Jesus wanted us to bless and pray for and never curse.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Reality

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
      Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

      The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      November 21, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  19. M.Khan

    In addition to vividly displaying the religious fanaticism and nationalism behind Israeli war crimes in Gaza and an overt appeal to the miitant and racist Armageddon Evangelicals in America, Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Smoke also have a double-entendre since that is what the Israeli war machine is exactly doing on the defenseless population in the Gaza ghetto.

    November 21, 2012 at 6:56 am |
    • Reality

      Putting the kibosh/”google” on all religions in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      November 21, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 21, 2012 at 4:42 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE), the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...

      November 21, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • USDude

      Sorry Hal 9001 – I think your IEE actually stands for Idiotic Expression Equivalency. You have to have much more faith than I do if you are an atheist. You probably believe that monkeys morphed into humans – that takes a lot of faith. You have to look around the world and wonder – wow, where did all this come from? And then you think to yourself, oh yeah, there was some big explosion and everything just magically appeared – that takes alot of faith too. Actually, maybe we agree on that point, it's just that we believe that God created the universe and all things in it. By the way, it looks like you provided lots of support for your "total fail" assertion – NOT! I've got a good book for you to read – it's the Bible.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • USDude

      Prayer does change things! Perhaps it could even change hal 9001.

      November 21, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Hm!

      US Dude!
      I'm with you, buddy!

      November 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "Salvatore" degenerates to:
      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "John 3:16" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" is the degenerate.

      This troll is not a christian

      November 26, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.

      November 26, 2012 at 9:29 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.